Ahead of the weekend's games we take a look at some talking points, including José Mourinho's return to Chelsea and the South American battle for La Liga
By Lewis Ambrose
José Mourinho will, yet again, be at the centre of this weekend’s action as we look ahead to the biggest clashes in Europe over the next few days. If you are sick of the Portuguese, equally passionate managers go head-to-head in La Liga, where Jorge Sampaoli and Diego Simeone will lock horns for the first time. In the Netherlands, Ajax hope to ruin Feyenoord’s perfect run in ‘De Klassieker’. Here are our five things to look out for over the next few days.
Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge
It is hard to believe that José Mourinho was still Chelsea manager in December last year but now, 11 months on, he is preparing to take his Manchester United side to Stamford Bridge for the first time. The Portuguese has not exactly enjoyed a harmonious start to life in Manchester and finds himself five points behind Pep Guardiola and Manchester City after eight games.
Meanwhile, Antonio Conte appears to have found a solution to Chelsea’s early inconsistencies. The last two games have seen the Blues line up in a 3-4-3 with Cesar Azpilicueta in a central role. Eden Hazard looks happier, Chelsea look better, and they could make it an unhappy return for José if they perform as they did against Leicester City last weekend.
South American battle for La Liga supremacy
Forget about Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi or even Real Madrid and Barcelona, the new exciting clash in Spanish football is between Argentinian coaches Jorge Sampaoli and Diego Simeone. Two years on from his first La Liga title, Simeone has Atlético playing their most exciting football of his reign while maintaining the defensive solidity they have become renowned for European-wide. The evolution of his side’s playing style has never been more obvious than last weekend, when Atléti won 7-1 against Granada.
Sampaoli, though, offers a new threat. After an unprecedented era of success with Chile, the passionate 56-year-old has embarked on his first job in European football as manager of Sevilla. A rocky start has been managed by the Andalusian side and quietly turned into a solid run of form. A dominant performance against Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday was one of their most impressive yet and Sampaoli will hope a repeat will lay down a marker, with the chance to go top of the table at stake.
More Milan misery for Juventus?
At long last, AC Milan seem to have found some form. Three years and three managers since they last played in the Champions League, the Rossoneri are third in Serie A after taking 13 points from their last five games; their best start to the season since they last won the Scudetto in 2010/11. Vincenzo Montella has put his plan in place and the players are responding: Milan have not averaged almost two goals a game in the league since the 2012/13 season.
Now we will see how good they really are. On Sunday they host Serie A bullies Juventus, whose only loss so far this season came in Milan against Internazionale. It is far too soon to suggest a win for Montella would open up a title race but, with recent form in mind, it may just prove Milan are finally on the right track.
De Klassieker has meaning once again
After almost two decades without an Eredivisie title, Feyenoord fans have every reason to get carried away by their early season form. Beating Manchester United in the Europa League grabbed headlines overseas but their domestic form is even more impressive: the Rotterdam side are the only club in Europe’s top 20 leagues to have won each of their games so far this season. With Dirk Kuyt (three goals) and Nicolai Jørgensen (seven goals) leading the way they have looked unstoppable. Whatever Giovanni van Bronckhorst is doing, it works.
The same goes for Peter Bosz at Ajax. The new head coach of the biggest club in the Netherlands was expected to bring back the ‘total football’ and quick possession philosophy which had seeped out of the first team in recent years. After a slow start the young players are grasping his concepts, winning their last six on the bounce. Another win on Sunday would reinforce his ideas and move Ajax to within two points of their fierce rivals.
Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim quietly look brilliant
At 28, Julian Nagelsmann became the youngest head coach in Bundesliga history when appointed by joint-bottom of the league Hoffenheim in February last year. In the 21 Bundesliga gaes since, Hoffenheim have accumulated more points than every Bundesliga side except Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen. A tactician shy of 30, an age some of his players have reached, has quietly transformed a cert for relegation into a challenger for a European place in a matter of months.
With RB Leipzig, 1. FC Köln and Hertha BSC all surprising fans the success of Nagelsmann has gone a little under the radar but Hoffenheim remain unbeaten so far this season. This weekend they face a huge test against Bayer Leverkusen but another impressive result for the CV will almost certainly have some of Europe’s bigger clubs looking out for Germany’s next top coach.